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About the Author

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Andrea Useem, creator and publisher of, is a freelance journalist and editor based in Northern Virginia who specializes in writing about religion. Andrea holds a Masters of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, as well as a Bachelors degree in religion from Dartmouth College. Previously, Andrea worked as a freelance journalist in Eastern Africa for four years; she has also lived in Muscat, Oman. She is married and has three sons.

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In Describing Mormonism, Who Is More Accurate: Believers or Reporters?

A heated digital discussion following last week’s review of Dick and Joan Ostling’s Mormon America on this site brought up a set of pointed questions about religion and journalism.


Commenter Amanda P. wrote: “If you are interested in Mormonism, visit and get your answers straight from the Church itself. This book is NOT an ‘objective’ point of view.”

To which commenter Henry James replied: “Re: the ‘’ suggestion. [That] is an official Mormon web site, hardly the place to go for ‘objective’ information. [That's] like going to for the objective information on their regime change.”

As an old-school journalist (i.e. one born before 1980), RW’s sympathies lie with Henry James on this point. A reporter cannot cover the war on terror, for example, only by quoting Pentagon press releases. Rather, a reporter has to get out there and dig up hard information, seeking multiple points of view and documentary evidence when possible.

This was the approach of the Ostlings, it seems to RW, as they drew on the works of both Mormon, non-Mormon and ex-Mormon scholars in researching their books. They demonstrated that the church squelches alternative points of view among members, sometimes using excommunication or other punishments. The Ostlings write that, of course, “ecclesiastical censure as such is nothing unusual. Most religions have some form of discipline on the books, usually to deal with moral misconduct.” They continue:

The LDS Church, however, is unusual in penalizing members for merely criticizing officialdom or for publishing truthful — if uncomfortable — information.

If freedom of information is at question, then, the call to refer back to official church websites for an objective perspective rings somewhat hollow., for example, does not mention anywhere the Mormon scholars the Ostlings interviewed, who were excommunicated in the 1990s for their academic work on the faith.

“Islam is Peace”

But if you really want to understand a faith, shouldn’t believers themselves offer the most definitive answers for curious outsiders? Do religious groups have a right to “media self-determination?”

The answer, in RW’s view, is yes and no. Following 9/11, for example, American Muslims have come forward to explain, time and again, the basics of Islamic faith and how terrorism is contrary to Islamic teachings. Such assertions from Muslims, however true, tend to exasperate fellow Americans largely, RW believes, because these “explanations” of the faith do not answer the central question of how 19 Muslim men could believe God wanted them to perpetrate the crimes of 9/11. Americans aren’t so interested in the details of Ramadan fasting or Muslim charitable giving — they need to know about the connection between Islam and terrorism.

Who Gets to Answer: “Are Mormons Christians?”

Just so, non-Mormon Americans have some central questions about Mormonism. One of the most oft-talked about is the question, “Are Mormons Christians?” And here is where the clash of perspectives between inside believers and outside observers really starts to generate sparks.

Both Mormon leaders and individual believers are quick to say they are Christians — they believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and await His Second Coming. Shouldn’t that be the end of it? Aren’t people allowed to define themselves? Again an analogy from Islam: Groups such as the Ismailis and Ahmadiyyas consider themselves Muslims, even while Sunni and sometimes Shia Muslims reject that idea and sometimes even persecute these groups. How should a reporter or other outside observer handle this question? Do you take a faith group at their word, do you listen to their rivals, or do you try to average between the two points of view?

One thing that both sides on the Mormon discussion should realize is there are no simple answers to these questions. Critics who assert that Mormons are not Christians must acknowledge the right of people to define their own beliefs; indeed, self-definition is an underpinning to American religious freedom. But just so, Mormons must realize there is a limit to the authority of self-definition. A believer insisting that “Mormons are Christians, period,” is somewhat like a Muslim believer saying, “Islam means peace, period.” In other words, there are some other issues to address. And one of these is the fact that the very idea of the “restored priesthood” in the Church of Latter-day Saints negates the validity of other Christian churches.

The Ostlings recount this story in their book:

A Mormon guiding a friend through the Salt Lake City visitors’ center in Temple Square asked, with tears in her eyes, ‘Why do so many people say we are not Christians? How can they, when the Savior is central to our faith?’ The friend paused and then responded, ‘But do you truly regard non-Mormon believers as fully Christian?’ The Mormon, seemingly unaware of the quid pro quo in her answer, exclaimed, ‘But that’s because we have the priesthood!’

Perhaps the most interesting new contribution to this are-Mormon-Christians discussion came last month from Richard Land, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, who said he considers Mormonism “the fourth Abrahamic religion-Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints being the fourth.” Land, who is supporting GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, is a sympathetic outsider, trying to build a bridge to Romney across which his fellow evangelicals can walk. Will Mormon leaders and believers accept his definition?

**Your Questions for the Ostlings**

RW is currently seeking an interview with the Ostlings for this site, and she will gladly pose to them questions that readers suggest below in the comments section.

ReligionWriter also wishes you a happy Thanksgiving holiday.

There Are 52 Responses So Far. »

  1. Objective Mormon Information, and Member Blindness

    Many many believing Mormons make the same ludicrous suggestion Amanda P made: just go to the Offical Mormon Web Site,, for *objective* information about the church.

    They are being honest and sincere. They truly believe this IS objective information. This fact is a perfect illustration of a blindly authoritarian perspective adopted by most (not all) Mormons, and encouraged and ENFORCED (through excommunication if necessary) by the General Authorities. ” Our leaders know what is best for us, and they will always tell us the truth.”

    Our columnist is correct, this is completely analagous the press just “retyping” Pentagon press relieases on the War, without getting other sources of information. It is so absurd as to be laughable in this illustration.

    Even if the Mormon leaders DID always have the best interests of Truth and their members at heart, their human failings would make it inevitable that many of their pronouncements would be at least arguable, if not downright folly.

  2. A few thoughts…

    I see nothing wrong with letting Mormons define their own beliefs. The suggestion to look at, I think, is the result of frustration at being one of the only faiths that people feel justified in telling us what we believe (not just as an attempt to explain Mormon behavior, but to continue Mormon peripheralization).

    I think many attempts to depict the faith’s history and beliefs by journalists are inadequate because journalists tend to be searching for “the story” which often entails the controversy and the sensational. It is no surprise that when I hear my beliefs described by a reporter often times the language used makes my beliefs sound much more odd and sensational than the language I would use, or the way I would conceptualize them. This is not a good way to help people understand their fellow human beings who happen to be part of a belief system that is different than theirs. Especially when there already is a great deal of prejudice in the public mind towards Mormons.

    Mormon life is not defined by its controversies. For example, one might get the impression that so-called heresy excommunications play a large part in the life of everyday Mormons. The fact of the matter is, they are very rare, and only done in extreme cases. I’ve asked many stake level leaders if they ever had to carry out any such discipline and I have yet to receive a positive answer. All of their disciplinary counsels concern morality (mostly adultery). Reporting on LDS disciplinary counsels has the same effect on the public mind as reporting on shark attacks, that is, it creates the illusion that very rare phenomenon is very common. The vast majority of LDS intellectuals write on the faith while maintaining full-fledged membership and holding various ecclesiastical positions of trust. One of the editors of Sunstone, for example, was a mission president (a very high position in the church).

    Many journalists still seem to have bought into the myth of objectivity, which tends result (especially when covering something like this) in an illusory reification of their own biases. The ‘objective’ language masks their prejudices and makes their biases appear self-evident. This is particularly easy with Mormonism because the audience tends to share biases with the author.

    I also think the religious background of the Ostlings (Evangelical Christians) in particular should alert us to negative biases in their writings. I have read many hearty endorsements of their book from evangelical preachers who wish to assist other evangelicals in debunking Mormonism. I don’t see them endorsing Douglass Davis, for example, who with two PHDs, one in theology the other in anthropology, has a life of serious engagement with Mormonism. He has created work on Mormonism that Latter Day Saints can actually see themselves in. Why the Ostlings and not Davis I wonder?

    Mormonism is a misunderstood and often caricatured religion. I’ve found that the only non-Mormons who can really capture the heart of the faith are scholars of religion who dedicate their lives to studying Mormonism. The writings of non-Mormon scholars Jan Ships, Douglass Davis, Fenella Cannell, and Laurie Maffly-Kipp are much more adequate than anything I’ve read by a reporter. Here is an example of the added dimensions specialization in religion can give (Laurie Maffly-Kipp is a scholar of religion at North Carolina):

    I would ask the audience if they can appreciate Mormonism better after reading this article vs. reading the previous post by religionwriter. I think Dr. Maffly Kipp’s article provides a more accurate depiction of at least a part of the Mormon core.

    The Ostlings give the impression that Mormonism is less reasonable than evangelical Christianity. That just makes me want to gag. I find it much easier to hold a non-inerrant view of the Joseph Smith’s revelations as divinely inspired-which in content and literary quality I find truly extraordinary and highly improbably considering its source-than holding an inerrantist view of the Bible, which seems to me much more probable a document to be concocted by naturalistic means over centuries of scribal editing and composition. Noah’s ark containing all the world’s species and saving them from a world-wide flood is more difficult for me swallow than Gold plates in upstate New York…And I was raised to believe in Noah’s Ark. I am convinced that Mormonism is seen as more irrational only because of a failure to really get a nuanced perspective from informed Mormons or simply because its beliefs are less familiar.

    In the end, journalist coverage or Mormonism tends to tell us as much, if more, about the public perceptions and reporter biases about Mormons, as it does about Mormons themselves. And, yes, LDS websites have pro-Mormon biases about themselves: I find the latter at least as informative as the former.



  3. My Esteemed Friend John D Writes”

    “I see nothing wrong with letting Mormons define their own beliefs.”

    Straw Man JD. We all agree that people should look at We just don’t think that is the ONLY place people should look to understand Mormonism.

    Straw Man 2: All journalists are sensationalists. Of course one needs to read ANYTHING skeptically. But not ALL people who write about Mormons are hacks.

    Open and extensive dialog is the best way to clarify for non-mormons the true nature of Mormon beliefs. You don’t need it, but non-mormons do.

    It is disingenuous to suggest that the Mormon Church does not have highly developed systems of contraint on public expressions of disagreement with the Church Authorities. The fact that ex-communication is rare is largely a testimony to the compliance of most Mormons with proscriptions against public criticism.

    JD criticizes the notion of an “objective journalist.” Would he make the same criticism of the notion of an “objective church?”

    Of course, no one should base their opinions on just one source. No good reporter does that. Whether the source is the Church or a critic of the Church. Straw man again, JD.

    The Evangelical Christian status of the Ostlings concerns me also. That is another reason I would not rely on just their opinion.

    Mormonism IS often caricatured, and I have said many times that their (our – I was a Mormon for 20 years) beliefs are no stranger than those of most religions (not a great recommendation).

    In his final paragraph, JD suggests that there in not much to learn about Mormonism from its non-Mormon critics. Balderdash. Read both official and non-official versions if you are a fair and curious person. Mormons don’t have horns. They are disgustingly respectable people in general. To not vote for Romney because he is a Mormon would be idiotic. But don’t JUST read to find out what kind of guy Joseph Smith was.

  4. I imagine there are some who think that Latter-day Saints should just be thankful to Richard Land for the “4th Abrahamic faith” dileniation as it is obviously more flattering than the all too common cult labeling that so often comes from his neck of the Christain woods. I think it’s clearly more thoughtful but even still one cannot remove or ignore Christ’s centrality in LDS teachings and worship — a position vastely different from His positon in Islam or Judiasm.

    Hence, I guess I still have a hard time understanding why LDS can be the 4th Abrahamic faith but not the 9,872nd or whatever Christian sect. I thought the monopoly on Christianity died after the birth of Protestism as a movement.

    As for the question about Accuracy in describing Mormonism, I think it depends on what one is looking for. If one is looking to know generally what LDS believe — thier values and doctrines, going somewhere like represents those beliefs well and accurately. The LDS Newsroom does a nice job of this kind of thing as well.

    On the other hand, if one wants to examine how those beliefs came about or in other words study the LDS Church’s origins, then of course there is a scholarly debate to be had just as there is over the Bible or other faiths- the word debate of course implying at least two sides and scholarly implying a standard of both objectivity and depth.

    I agree with John D the First, that generally I’ve found reporters to be lacking in representing both LDS beliefs and origins. In reading the many commentaries prompted by the politics of late, how many times now have I read the words whacky, bizarre or unbelievable to begin an “explanation” of LDS teachings then followed by a butchering of LDS beliefs. Would a similar piece on say Jews or Budhists use this kind of coverage?

  5. Who Ya Gonna Believe about Joseph Smith

    according to the review on this site, the Ostlings described Joseph Smith this way

    “Joseph Smith, Mormonism’s founding prophet, dabbled in the occult, was charged with various crimes, and, when pressuring a young woman to become his polygamous wife, told her she risked damnation if she refused. Not such an appealing figure when studied closely.”

    I know something about this. My great great grandfather was in the Jail with Smith when he was assassinated.

    As I read lots of historical sources, all the factual claims the Ostlings make here are undeniably true. One could argue about whether one finds him “appealing.” But these reporters are not being inaccurate in their reporting.

    The reporters also describe an ordinary Egyptian Funerary document that Smith claimed to “translate” into a book of ancient Abraham’s writings. Every non-mormon scholar who has looked at this “translation” labels it a laughable fraud.

    So at least on the basis of these two examples, the Ostlings are accurately reporting, and the Mormon Church would tell you that Smith was a reliable Prophet of God rather than an occultist, and that the “Book of Abraham” is an authentic divinely inspired scripture.

    A fair-minded non-mormon should have LOADS of questions about both Smith’s character and his translation

    A Mormon who publicly expresses such doubts would run a very good chance of being excommunicated, and would surely be ostracised.

  6. My rebuttal to my esteemed freind Henry James:

    Strawman of Jd1s argument # 1

    “We just don’t think that is the ONLY place people should look to understand Mormonism.”

    I don’t see what you are responding to here. I named several non-Mormon scholars that I think do a very nice job of representing Mormonism.

    Strawman of Jd1’s arguments # 2:

    “All journalists are sensationalists.”

    What I actually said:

    “I think many attempts to depict the faith’s history and beliefs by journalists are inadequate because journalists tend to be searching for “the story” which often entails the controversy and the sensational.”

    Notice the difference between “tend”, “often entails” and “all.”

    “JD criticizes the notion of an “objective journalist.” Would he make the same criticism of the notion of an “objective church?”

    Yes, and I quote from my last post, “LDS websites have pro-Mormon biases about themselves.”

    Strawman of Jd1’s argument #3:

    “In his final paragraph, JD suggests that there in not much to learn about Mormonism from its non-Mormon critics.”

    What I actually said:

    “In the end, journalist coverage or Mormonism tends to tell us as much, if more, about the public perceptions and reporter biases about Mormons, as it does about Mormons themselves.”

    Notice, I didn’t mention non-Mormon critics, nor did I say “all” journalism. I said “journalist coverage tends to.” I also never said we have nothing to learn. I said it’s not just Mormons we are learning about, not that we have nothing to learn about Mormons from them per se.

    How certain groups are represented in the media does tell us much about the culture doing the representing as it does about the groups being represented. This is why, for example, cultural studies of, say, Israeli perceptions of Palestinians might focus heavily on Israeli news articles about Palestinians(See the book “Israel, Palestine and the Politics of Popular Culture”). My guess is that scholars attempting to understand the Palestinians themselves would depend very little on these sources. I would also guess that 50 years from now scholars will mine the media archives for information, not on Mormons, but about how Americans tended to represent Mormons during the Romney campaign.



  7. Andrea,
    As I take in all of this, since I had made a previous comment and feel a vested interest, I wanted to convey my thanks for re-addressing this topic in such a balanced and thoughtful way. I have enjoyed the robust discussion here. As a reader, Happy Thanksgiving to you also (as also to Henry James, John D the First, Charlie Brown, and your loved ones). I’ll have to do a good bit of reading to ask a question of the Ostlings… later.

  8. I’ve now read much of the Ostling’s book, and found it very good reading. I do think it is far more balanced than the ReligionWriter portrayal in the prior piece. So-my only question would be, did the Ostlings read the Book of Mormon during their research, and if so do they really think it could have been written by one young man (even with help from others) during such a compressed period of time?

  9. As one of the few who suggested the alternate, I think I need to clarify my position.

    In my mind, a religion is best understood from the viewpoint from the practitioner. The feelings and experiences that lead to faith can hardly be expressed in normal journalistic style. I also agree with the sentiment that journalists tend to look for the amazing and skip out on the “normal” day to day routines which define most faiths.

    Am I saying that one should not look into non-Mormon sources when seeking information on Mormonism? No, I am not saying that in the least. However, I am saying that this is where you should look first. One should look into a religion without previous misconceptions- those alterations of the tale can come later.

    Of course, there are also some subjects where books like these are wholly inappropriate. If one is looking to understand the theology of a religion, they should go to the religion to find that out.

    On the other hand, if one is interested in the history of a religion- or a religion’s place in today’s society- this is a very good book to read.

    I appreciate what the Ostlings are trying to do. I also appreciate the fact that they tried to make their report objective as possible. However, their “objectivity” makes them all the more dangerous of a source. When you read something on you know exactly how bias it is. Yet when you read from Mormon America, you are led to believe you are reading an evenhanded book. That simply is not true.

  10. T Greer writes cordially about the earlier post. Thank you.

    When we are discussing the point of view of a Non-Mormon investigating THE Church, where should she get her information?

    M. Greer reasonably suggests that the investigator understand Mormon theology and practice based on the Mormon’s presentation.

    But just as you would not invest your life savings with a Broker until you did some reference checking,

    you would be well advised not to invest your eternal soul with a religion based solely on the claims of its brokers.

    The Mormon Church’s theological validity depends on the believability of Joseph Smith, and his claim to have divine visitation in his founding of the church.

    This is, to put it mildly, an extraodinary claim.

    And it comes from a man with a documented record as an occultist, treasure hunter, tall tale teller, suspected financial fraud, and procurer of multiple wives by questionable means.

    But you are still going to believe he saw God and Jesus, his recounting of which changed 6 times over the period of 20 years?

    Would you like to buy a Pineapple Plantation in Hawaii?

    Read But be skeptical. Read widely. Get many opinions. Think of the character of the salesman, charismatic religious genius that he was.

  11. It should also be acknowledged that NO evangelical Christian should be quoted or taken as speaking some sort of truth on the subject of Mormonism without much investigation. Aside from the fact that they are congenitally unable to do so, they are brainwashed (unless someone has a better word for it) through the agency of their church and culture against Mormonism. Reporting should acknowledge and explore this.

    Further, ask would you still read the same authors when they explain why Catholics are not Christians? Because a substantial subset do not believe that they are. Or because Catholicism is more widely known would they be dismissed as nuts and their claims marginalized and ignored? Would you then rule out what they say about Mormons?

    Dig a little and you will find many of these people veer toward intolerence or outright hatred of people who do not believe what they do. Many of them are simply more motivated to spray this stuff over the web

    Many of these people count on ignorance to sell their tracts, garnner advertising for their websites, and generate Jesus Bucks. Ex-Mormons are interesting but you need to know the story from the other side as well. Often there is considerable anger at their former faith community and there are numerous examples of disgruntled people claiming to be Ex-Mormons just plain making stuff up.

    All of this is cut and pasted on hundreds of websites but much of it can be traced to the same few sources. You will find it on seemingly legit websites as well as alongside screeds about the New World Order, copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and rants on why the Pope is a tool of the Illuminati.

    Finally, because of the nuts, kooks, noobs, and crackpots the internet is a terrible place to research ANYTHING to do with ANY religion. For instance, Wikipedia articles on religions are subject to continual vandalism from nuts who make stuff up to tar the religion and its followers.

    Your best bet is a range of books from mainstream religious scholars which look at the issue from calm and rational but disperate view points. This includes mormons and non-mormons alike.

  12. Henry James,
    Indeed, one should do a fair assessment before “buying a plantation,” to include visiting the location, talking with the locals about the site in question (preferably the long-timers and those who have nothing to gain from the proposed sale), seeing past and present fruits, checking out the possibility of storms in the area (we do have storms ahead, by the way), asking questions and more questions. Contemplate through as many valid sources and points of view as are reasonable, the likely return on one’s investment.

    I assure you that I for one have done that assessment with Mormonism, and have found a return on my investment that IMHO is far greater than the return you have gotten from Buddhaism, notwithstanding your world view and love which are commendable. My investment return is much more complicated, admittedly, because it comes with a degree of family trials/learning experiences that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but I’m so grateful to have grown from them in ways that I would never have comprehended if I hadn’t experienced them.

    What’s amusing to me is that people such as yourself talk about Joseph Smith without complicating the discussion with the doctrines of the gospel, yet the doctrines and the personal experiences confirming the truthfulness of those doctrines are what appeal to someone like myself. Casting aspersions on Joseph Smith, who yes had a vivid belief in the connection of the earth with its inhabitants and with heavenly powers and purposes, and a strong self-belief (he needed those qualities to have the faith that he had), doesn’t bother me in the least other than when it is done with the attempt to discredit all of his teachings and to discredit the Book of Mormon, which stands on its own as what I strongly affirm is a divinely inspired book.

    Peace, my friend, and Happy Thanksgiving to you.

    P.S. Isn’t this editing feature nice? I guess I should expand on “nothing to gain from the proposed sale.” Mormonism says, in effect, that everyone receives their own plantation, while at the same time we help each other with a sense of community cultivation and community return from our work, together. I do have something to gain when someone “joins” the LDS Church in my area, because they bring their unique talents, experiences, love, culture, and friendship, and indeed I and my family are abundantly blessed by such additions. I have also had many friendships with those of other faiths and have been blessed by those associations, albeit on a more limited basis. I welcome the Millenium when there will indeed be many, many religions on the earth and we’ll all learn from each other without the doubts and fears we now seem to experience. Best to you.

  13. At 47 years old, I have been a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for almost 22 years. I read this back and forth banter and am totally baffled as to why there are those who continually battle to tear down the Church.

    There are far more extreme so-called “religions” in the world today that go along peacefully and happily teaching what they want without fear of persecution.

    So, why are the Mormons such a target in these latter days? I know the answer and you do too. Our doctrine does not change with the political winds that blow. It is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

    I know what my life was pre-1986 and I know what it has been for the past 22 years. And I’ll say one other thing…

    When I get beyond this life and if I determine that the “sacrifices” (which, to me, are not sacrifices at all) I have made to remain a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and enjoy the blessings thereof were totally unnecessary, then my conclusion will be that I will have lived a much happier, more peaceful, more charitable, more fulfilling life than I would have lived, had I spent it like many of you. You simply do not know what you are missing. If you did, you would be baptized and change your life before the sun sets today. But it’s like chocolate cake, if you never had any you really don’t know what you are missing. I hope one day you humble yourselves to the point of tasting the cake. If you do, you’ll want more.

    To me, your lives are lives without feeling, without compassion, lives spent always trying to prove another wrong, when we all have the ability to chose for ourselves where we will go and what we will do.

    To that I say, it pains my heart that there are those who, in my opinion, literally live their entire lives not feeling the Spirit of the Lord, who never know the joy of serving another for the pure sake of serving another.

    Heck, there are those who didn’t believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Saviour of the World, many who witnessed the miracles. It’s sad but true. Unfortunately when he returns there will be many who still won’t believe. I’ve seen the miracles and I believe.

  14. Douglas Reid
    Thank you for your kind and touching words.

    My “objective” prospectus on whether one should buy the Mormon Planation is this:

    On the Plus side, you get
    1. A strong, committed community
    2. people really DO help each other out
    3. living the gospel principles will help you be healthy.
    4. there is much rich spiritual life in the church

    the questions:

    1. Any metaphysical claim, including Joseph Smith’s, is unverifiable, and must be taken on faith. My opinion is, if the religion works for you, don’t worry about the afterlife speculation. Though Mormonism is SO much about the Celestial Kingdom and Eternal Progression (not necessarilyh a bad thing) that that is hard.
    2. The metaphysical claims of the church do rest on the believability of Joseph Smith, as does the “authenticity” of the Book of Mormon. And Smith WAS a very questionable character. Many fair-minded and informed people do believe he was a Con Man.
    3. The Church history of polygamy and discrimination against blacks and gays (and many would say also women) is something one needs to come to terms with.

    Again, the most important thing is that the Church gives you comfort in this crazy world. I can’t prove Joseph Smith was wrong, and you can’t prove he was right, and if I love my neighbor it really doesn’t matter much.

  15. People seeking to understand the church, Joseph Smith, or any principle taught by them certainly have a choice in where they get their information. After all that, the best way to find out whether all this comes from God or not is to ask Him. Both James 1:5 and Moroni 10:3-5 directs people to do this.

  16. I’ve had to skip most of the lengthy debate in the comments but I wanted to add two comments:

    1. You say: “A believer insisting that ‘Mormons are Christians, period,’ is somewhat like a Muslim believer saying, ‘Islam means peace, period.’”

    I find that a very unfair comparison. That might work if you had Mormons openly attacking and defaming Jesus while claiming they worship Him.

    Muslim terrorism is clearly not following any doctrine of peace.

    Mormons believe in and follow Christ. Pretty basic. You have to inject a lot of history and theological somersaults to make a basic definition of Christianity anything other than believing in Christ as the Savior. That seems unfair.

    2. I think the question of priesthood confuses the Christian nature of a church with the understanding of its truthfulness.

    As a Mormon, I don’t begrudge other churches or Christian believers their Christianity. I also don’t think they have all the religious truth that my church does. But those are separate matters.

  17. [...] Who Gets to Answer: “Are Mormons Christians?”: Perhaps there are limits to self-definition, but come on: A believer insisting that “Mormons are Christians, period,” is somewhat like a Muslim believer saying, “Islam means peace, period.” [...]

  18. You are right of course. Who should we believe if Mormons say they are Christian? I, for example, could say that you are an ass, but how do we verify such a statement? I suppose we could go to you for such verification (or not). But honestly, I think people should take my word for it. Surely, I as an objective outsider see you better than you can see yourself.

  19. Henry James replied: “Re: the ‘’ suggestion. [That] is an official Mormon web site, hardly the place to go for ‘objective’ information.

    It may not be objective to Henry, but it will be true, accurate, honest, and in conformance to the Church’s teachings. So, what is more important?

  20. Interesting exchanges indeed.

    I taught American Church classes for 30 years and accumulated what I thought was a wonderful understanding of the “facts” of the faiths. I was humbled by a kindly Christian Scientist practitioner, however, during a class. As we began, I provided what I thought was a wonderful and positive summary of Christian Scientist experience prior to her commentary, then asked if that was accurate. She paused and quietly responded, well, I suppose it was accurate, but it was not what I would have said.

    Any discussion on religion starts with pre-formed opinions and contexts (ok, bias). Seldom do we exchange with people of other faiths our own unguarded experiences which form the basis for our faith. But when we do succeed in such free exchanges within the climate of genuine and loving inquiry, true appreciation grows for the experience of the other and for the new-found friend.

    Public articles almost never achieve that level of enlightenment and exchange, partly because of jaded intent, partly because of ignorance of what really makes the religion “tick” to its adherents. The reading believer is stung by insinuations which lie outside his own genuine experience from within the faith. Factual accuracy is laudable, but can be nuanced and manipulated to make this point or that. If I am motivated by genuine desire to accurately understand and describe a religion, then my source for accuracy must include the living nature of the believer’s experience, and that source, of course, is the believer.

    So, I would begin with to give me the background, then follow up my inquiry by visiting with the believer next door in any honest desire to really understand the power in the neighbor’s religion. What an interesting article that would be!

    In contrast, our lobbing verbal bombs from behind our computer-bunkers never takes us to the heart of one another or makes us friends or true neighbors. Nor does it produce accurate understanding. And that is a great loss.

  21. When learning of spiritual things, the scriptures tell us that the spirit is required. Reference checking would require asking of God as James 1:5 tells. Mankind and our limited resources do not contain that witness which the spirit can teach. References and Historical knowledge can only provide that which we must evaluate with the spirit…

  22. As one of the supposed zombie Mormons that follows the teachings of the LDS church, I find any insinuation that I am suppressed into silence by my ecclesiastical leaders to be insulting. It bothers me that honest writers and commentators would characterize LDS church leadership as being akin to the society found in Farenheit 451 and themselves as being the only Guy Montag with true perspective because it’s coming from someone who has seen both sides of the coin. If I see George Washington on a coin, I know that I’ve got 25 cents, I don’t need to see the other side to know that. Interestingly, if I do, the other side is upside down. Mormons are not numb intellectuals, but rather are taught to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith” by their leaders. While I’m sure that some have felt they were cut off from the church because their views didn’t agree with those held by the church, it doesn’t mean that church leaders suppress first amendment rights, just that one apple fell far from the tree.

    But aside from any rhetorical defenses that we may engage in about the LDS faith and it’s culture, the doctrines of the church do not need defending. If an honest individual practices what the LDS church teaches, they will see an improvement in their lives that can’t be duplicated anywhere. The world may not need LDS culture,(namely church basketball, endless meetings, and casseroles that include all the basic food groups) but it does need the doctrines of Jesus Christ as taught by the Latter Day Saints more than anything else.

    We are the only church that believes that we don’t have all the answers but that God does. We don’t point to our texts and say “here look, this proves my point” but rather invite any honest individual to ask God for His opinion on the subject of which religion is correct. Before we trust the Ostlers, let’s trust God. I know that He can and does speak to man, whether through vision or a feeling of peace. God has told me that He did appear to Joseph Smith with His Son, Jesus Christ, and that His Church has been restored to the earth. With only a small fraction of the world believing as I do, it is obvious that God hasn’t said this to everyone. This doesn’t mean it’s not true, but more likely means that the world has not because it asks not.

    There are many perspectives, whether in the church or out, with their own views about Mormonism, but the perspective that matters the most in this discussion is God’s. Why aren’t we encouraging His involvement in the topic? An honest intellectual would have to admit that if there is a God and He is what and who He says He is, He is the only One who can tell us who He is and what He wants for us. No scholarly discussion has that ability, whether at Nicaea, on the internet, or at a university. Anyone who has had Mormon missionaries visit their home knows that helping their hosts to communicate with God more effectively is their priority. A combination of study AND faith is the only way to know truth.

    My question for the Ostler’s is whether they asked God in the name of Jesus Christ to help them present a fair view of Mormonism in their book, and whether they have personally asked God if the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith are true. If they haven’t then they have managed to miss the crux of our message- that “Ask and ye shall receive” is just as true today as it was when the Savior spoke it.

    Thanks for opening this article to comments.

    God Bless and Happy Thanksgiving

  23. This is a wonderful discussion.

    I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints all of my life (55 years and counting). I don’t call myself a “Mormon”, because I worship Jesus the Christ. So I call myself a Christian. Neither do I consider myself an “intellectual” (well educated, yes; intellectual, no) - so the following may sound less than scholarly.

    I guess what I really want to know from the Ostling’s, and any others who seem to have a sincere passion to discredit the church: what motivates your passion? Why do you use the wonderful writing, research and presentation skills you posses to destroy the beliefs and passions of others? I see it as being akin to putting a virus on my computer: you have the skill, talent and power to do it; but all it does is make me mad. So why do you do it? I just clean-off the virus and go on.

    I (like millions of other members of the church) have a passion for believing everything Joseph Smith wrote or said. I don’t think you are a crackpot for not believing him to be a real prophet; why do you seem to feel I have been “brainwashed” into blindly following him and the leaders of the church today? Why do you think your impression of Joseph Smith is more well informed and factual than mine?

    The reality is that the church encourages people to think and reason for themselves. They discourage trying to gain power and prestige by “re-inventing” the doctrine or denying what the prohpet has declared to be “true”. But the same could be said for the Republican Party - or the Boy Scouts - or any other institution that follows a strong, clear doctrine.

    Those who take issue with the doctrines and principles espoused by Joseph Smith or any other modern day prophet should find a society they do believe in, and devote their passions in defense of what they do believe - not in the destruction of my passion. If the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints offends you, then leave it alone.

    I can assure you: your books and passions will have little affect on the membership of the church. Members will simply clean-off the virus you are trying to plant and move on.

  24. I’ve really enjoyed reading this. This is my first time posting. I think that people who have posted here are, in most cases*, trying to be fair.

    I am a Mormon - I consider myself a Christian. However, I am quite happy to be separated in identity from the rest of the Christian world who inexplicably believe that the Bible contains ALL revealed truth about God, and who base their perception of the nature of God on politically motivated compromises and creeds.

    Am I a Christian? Well, it depends on what you mean by “Christian”? I believe the Jesus is the Savior of all mankind, the Son of God - if that doesn’t qualify as Christian, then let’s just leave it at this, “I believe in Christ”.

    * The Joseph Smith bashing is just so so so incredibly naive. Other prophets have the benefit of centuries to buffer us from being aware of all their struggles, foibles, weaknesses. So much work has been done to blacken his name - don’t buy into it and don’t perpetrate it. I love Joseph Smith - everything about his life (even his faults) have motivated me to look to Jesus Christ for a forgiveness of my many sins. I wish people would just lay off - but, I suppose, as long as we are proseltyzing, we voluntarily subject ourselves to such scrutiny - even the cheap-shots.

  25. This is indeed a very interesting question. Believers will always put their faith in the best light possible. Nonbelievers will dispel the light with strategically placed clouded words or information. Reporters will more than likely go for information that will draw in readers. Sometimes that is balanced, sometimes it is not.

    In my opinion, for one to have the greatest chance of hearing what a church believes they should go to their meetings un-announced. No one has a chance to teach anything out of the ordinary because of “special guests”.


  26. About the comment of Joseph smiths vision being told differently over 20 year period.

    First off I tell a story differently after 2 minutes. 20 years is a long time and peoples experiences change how they explain things as well as who they are telling.

    Second the bible tells the same story’s in many different ways and millions of people believe in it.

    And as far as investing yes it is good to look at a objective opinion but at the same time you still have to check into the actual source they do have more information about themselves than others would.

    And as far as Mormons being Christan’s depends on definition as far as believing in Christ yes but as far as the other many beliefs other church’s have no and I personally wouldn’t want the LDS church to be associated with those church’s as far as that goes.

  27. You have your facts wrong. Richard Land has actually made clear he is NOT endorsing Mitt Romney.

  28. This article highlights questions for which the answers depend on definitions. What is the better source to understand Mormonism? It depends on whether you want to know Mormonism as its practitioners understand and live it, how its detractors understand it, or how an objective reporter or academic (if such an animal exists) sees it within its broader cultural or religious context.

    Are Mormons Christians? It depends on how you define Christianity. The LDS church teaches that it is the restoration of the church established by Jesus Christ and his apostles in the first century. According to Mormon doctrine, this church became corrupted after the death of the apostles. Jesus then restored his church and its correct teachings through Joseph Smith in the 19th century. LDS classes in church history pretty much ignore everything between the time of the apostles and the birth of Joseph Smith.

    Most of the rest of Christianity does not include the LDS church in the fold for the same reasons that the early church excluded Arians and other ‘heretics’; that is, Mormons do not believe in the triune nature of God or that Jesus Christ is of the same substance as God the Father. Protestants also reject the Mormon teachings that good works are necessary for salvation. Catholics and Protestants reject the idea that there are scriptures other than The Bible. There are many other Mormon teachings that fall outside the rest of Christianity (temples, prophets, etc.) but the nature of the Trinity and the role of scripture define Christianity for most of the Christian world.

    So who gets to answer? Where is the authority? Mormons claim the authority in that they profess to be led by a prophet through whom God speaks. Roman Catholics have the Pope. Most of the rest is denominational councils or outspoken evangelists. All of the above claim to speak for God or, at least, through the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So there is no agreed-upon authority.

    The idea of Mormonism as a fourth Abrahamic religion is just baffling. Mormons claim the roots of their faith to be Jesus Christ. They revere Jesus as the Messiah. The LDS church may be viewed as the restored true Christianity or a heresy. But to lay it on some parallel track back to Abraham seems to be just a lame way to deny the Mormon claim to Christianity while still giving it some air of legitimacy.

  29. When it comes to finding out how different religious groups believe. It is always best to go to the source to find out how they believe.

    One of the best books I have ever read on different religious beliefs is a book titled Christian Religions in America. This book was a list of the largest groups of Christian religions in the United States (including Mormons). Each section was written by a leading authority of that particular denomination. I found the information on each denomination personnally beneficial and inciteful. I use this information to better understand individuals from other faiths than my own.

    As to understanding how Joseph Smith could have possibly spoken with God, why is this any more perposterous than Moses, Paul, the 12 Apostles at the meridian of time, and many other examples throughout the scriptures? Did they not speak with God? Certainly with all the questions raised regarding religion in our day, we too have great need for receiving answers directly from God - perhaps even more so.

    Either Joseph Smith’s account is true or it isn’t. Perhaps the best way to find out for one’s self is to study information regarding Joseph Smith story, the teachings of the Mormon Church, and then asking God for oneself whether it is true. I for one still believes God answers prayers and will do so to those asking with a sincere heart.

  30. I’m an active, born and raised in the church, Mormon. The Church is what it is. If the Church can’t stand up to scrutiny than it isn’t worth being a part of. The Church has been scrutinized since the day Joseph Smith came out of the grove saying he had seen God over 150 years ago. It has stood the test of time. If a member of the Church hears or reads something about the Church that shocks them or upsets them and they fall away or turn anti-Mormon, than I say “Good riddance. Don’t let the door hit ya, where the Good Lord split you”. If you are now asking “Which Lord are you referring to? The Lord of the Bible or your imaginary Lord from your precious Book of Mormon?” I would answer such a question like this: “Go to Hell.” In other words, I just want to enjoy my religion without others coming in and telling me what they think about it. I don’t care what you think. The whole “You’re not Christians” thing came about from one simple reality: If the Mormon Church is really the true church of Jesus Christ than all those evangelicals are going to Hell. If the Non-Mormon Christian Churches are correct than Mormons are saved anyway because they have accepted Jesus as their savior and according to Non-Mormon Christian Churches that’s all you need is to accept Christ. If I want to waste my time baptizing dead people and what not that’s fine, I’ve accepted Jesus I’m saved. I’m covered either way. So the only way to answer that (and I always imagine hearing this is some whiney 5-year old’s voice) “Well then, fine! You don’t really believe in Jesus. You’re not saved. There! What do you think about that?” What I think is that you’re an idiot, and I don’t want to be in a “Heaven” that is occupied by idiots like you. So I guess if you’re right than I’ll be happy in hell, if I’m right I’ll be happy with you in hell.

  31. Whew!!! Sure got a whole dang bunch a’ Mormons rushin in here all at once!!

    Just a couple of points: is a very good place to find out what Mormons *believe*. You will get the truth about what they believe, but you will not find out if what they believe is true.

    If I am a Muslim, asking God in the name of Jesus Christ if Mormonism is true is kinda “begging the question” (in its original meaning), don’t you think?

    The best description I have gotten about how we will know, after praying to God, if the Book of Mormon is “true” is that I will get a “burning in my chest.” There are many reasons why I could get a burning in my chest.

    Finally, Mormons are very good people, and if a person finds peace and meaning in the Mormon religion, that seems just fine to me. I am happy for them.

    I still believe Joseph Smith did NOT have a vision. But it is fine with me if you think he did.

  32. I also find the number of Mormons (including myself) that have popped out of the woodwork here quite funny.

    I do believe we are straying a bit from the topic at hand. The merits of the Mormon faith are unrelated to whether or not Non-Mormons reporters can cover Mormonism better than Mormons. (And vice versa.)

    I think RW does bring up a much more interesting topic near the end of her last post. Who gets to decided if Mormons are Christians? I have sympathy with both sides here.

    For one, if you want to find a people who have truly dedicated their lives to Christ, it is the devout of The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints. On the other hand, Mormonism is vastly different than every other Christian sect. I would go so far as to say that the differences are not dissimilar to those separating Judaism and Christianity. When other Christians call Mormons believers in the 4th Abrahamic religion, I can’t say I disagree with them. However, if this true, then Christianity is the 4th Abrahamic religion, and these followers of the “3rd” Abrahamic religion need a new name!

  33. First let me say I am a Mormon. Second, I think you are correct in asserting the need to be objective,, is a good place to look for one point of view, but it shouldn’t be the only place one looks if one really wants to be objective. I do take issue with the idea that a reporter can define if a mormon is a Christian, and even that Mormons can’t define that for themselves. I especially take issue with comparing that to saying, “Islam is peace, period.” That statement looks at the what are the true beliefs of Islam and should be looked at objectively to see if that is what Islam really teaches, but it presuposes the person who said it is a member of Islam. I have no problem with people arguing the true beliefs of Christianity and whether mormons represent the true beliefs of christianity, but I do have issue with saying, they are not Christians, this is a method for those against mormons to try to write them off and end the discussion before looking at beliefs. Within mainstream christianity there are thousands of different groups all believing different things, even though they are all different we call them collectively “christians” because they have some things in common, specifically a belief in Christ, so if you believe in Christ, then you go searching among these thousands to find a group that you feel is correct. Mormons believe in Christ, that is a central tenet of our faith. To say then that we are not christians because we believe different things about His teachings, is pure ignorance of “christianity” and assumes christianity is this unified body of believers. Again, the mormon christian debate is just a method for other christian groups who are fighting for members to dissuade people from looking at mormonism as an option for exercisings one’s belief in Christ. If one takes issue with mormons being christian because their beliefs are different, then one would need to similiarly take issue with the thousands of other groups who claim a belief in christ yet share different views about His teachings.

  34. Hi Henry James,

    Just wanted to say I agree with your warning about going to To be sure, you definitely want to check it out, of course. But it really doesn’t cut it as the go-to source for all issues about Mormonism.

    I don’t agree with the “obvious fraud” rhetoric of course, but I also see no need to play those tunes again.


  35. I believe that Bill Gates had a vision and Microsoft is true, I also believe that Joseph Smith had a vision and I know that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true. And that vision has led to a very caring group of people who doesn’t want to harm anybody. They are good people. Let them believe what they want.

  36. I think that there is a broader discussion in order here.

    Society does not have any means at its disposal to decide the validity between of any of the systems of beliefs of conscience. How does one prove conclusively to all mankind with the tools society has at hand that a god does or does not exist, that the religion of Darwinism, Atheism, tribal shamanism is more or less relevant than that of Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Hinduism.

    Another fact remains also. There is no such human being that does not have a “religion”. There in an innate desire in all of us to connect the dots of our world in to a meaningful “how, what, where and why”. We humans only know what we experience, therefore we find such reality insufficient and thus we craft a larger reality out of ancillary data at our disposal into a belief system that explains to us the validity of our life’s journey. Hence we have a religion.

    For sure there are claims from many that they are more enlightened than the majority by means of extra-sensory/intellectual means not available to the masses. The claims are myriad from these who are labeled as prophets, shamans, medicine men, philosophers, and scientists. But none of them provide any means for society as a whole to prove the validity of their claims or theories. All of them require a belief or faith in the assertions and philosophies beyond ordinary senses. It does not mean that such enlightenments are true or false, good or evil, or have some redeeming social value. It just means that as a whole, society has no useful means to determine the concrete truth of any of it.

    This truth is established. For a society to function best, it must grant all self-determined agency and rights equal to the rest. Any and all social laws must only exist to ensure the maintenance of those rights. Therefore, freedom of conscience is always a must, so also is the freedom of speech.

    Therefore, we as a society should never fear a religion of conscience that espouses beliefs and doctrines that are different as long as they do not espouse that which could limit or control the agency and equal rights of other men. Any religion or philosophy should be equally free to compete in the marketplace of ideas, to live a die on their own merits.

    Sadly that has not been the case in history. More often than not, when a belief of conscience becomes the majority opinion, the majority enacts laws to force the conscience. When that dominance is challenged, they become insecure and retaliate with all the tools available. Historically, we have had Hellenism, Islam, Christianity, Nazism, Atheism plus scores of other ancient religions do that and such is still going on now. We ought to fear any religion/philosophy that tries to impel conscience in any form.

    In the United States since it’s founding, the dominant religion among the European Whites has been various sects of Protestant Christianity. In the 21st Century, its dominance is being challenged by Catholicism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam, Asian Religions, Atheism, Darwinism, Environmentalism and so on. The Evangelical Right is behaving like a majority religion challenged and they are lashing out. They refuse to allow a disputed religion/philosophy to be the best arbiter of its own beliefs while using non-contextual exaggerations, misinformation and negative propaganda to promote their cause. This is always the first step in forced compulsion of conscience.

    Surely the more radical factions of the Islamists, Atheists, Darwinists and Environmentalists are threatening the freedom of the current world. I see the more radical factions of the Evangelical Christians approaching them in rhetoric, tone and self-righteousness. I do feel some fear because of it.

  37. Soooo much talk and sadly no one has come to the real point here.

    From the very beginning of recorded history there are THREE shrines: The Mantic, The Sophic, and The Sophistic

    “Mantic” means “prophetic or inspired, oracular, coming from the other world and NOT from the resources of the human mind.”

    “Sophic” means “cool, critical, objective, naturalistic, and scientific.”

    “Sophistic” means “Rhetorical, that is, a pseudothought form which merely imitates the other two in an attempt to impress the public.”

    True believers, Latter-day Saints and others, are Mantic. Their belief does not rest on what scientists and reporters say.

    Scholars truly studying comparative religion and sociology are Sophic. They have no interest in denigrating a religion, using loaded words, or character assasination. While no individual can truly be objective, collectively they gather, document, classify, and analyze data in an unending quest for knowledge of things as they are.

    Reporters and authors tend strongly to be Sophistic. It is their business. Many in this group speak to a niche audience which they intend to impress. Some few scientists have honestly turned to writing and reporting to the general public, but this is rare because it takes time away from the quest. Other trained scientists have left their science behind to become primarily Sophistic.

    People who worship at different shrines can at best have détente. There will never be peace.

    I commend to you the article “Three Shrines: Mantic, Sophic, and Sophistic” by Hugh Nibley, published in the book “The Ancient State,” Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, and Foundation for Ancient research and Mormon Studies, Provo, Utah, 1991, pages 311-379. Do not expect this to be easy reading, but it is very much worth the time and effort. The quotes above come from Nibley.

    In consequence of this, the real question I would pose to the Ostlings is, “Are there any terms on which there can be détente?” I expect not. They are plying their trade very effectively.

  38. Several issues are being explored in the above discussion, and in the ReligionWriter opinion piece. A couple of points I would like to make from my perspective (coming from having lived among southern Baptists and among predominantly LDS cultures) are these:

    1. It seems to me that many other Christian believers exclude Mormons from their “definition” because they have been taught such for generations, and they aren’t taught to think independently about religious topics, so when they think in religious terms and religious language and usage, they will drift to what they have been taught by their respective clergy. They won’t generally make an independent assessment from the Bible because they haven’t really read it much on their own. (I’m not criticizing this, just acknowledging the probability of it occurring.) So we LDS needn’t be offended from such an exclusionary definition, although we can challenge their clergy (but they have many vested interests in the definitions, and must defend their “territory”.) We needn’t be offended in either case.

    Obviously, Christ will ultimately decide who is a Christian, and I think the definition will be very broad and inclusive, happily so. I consider myself to have many, many Christian friends of many denominations and count them true believers in Christ with true intent to do good wherever they go in the world. I appreciate and respect them.

    2. I disagree as to whether LDS belief in restored priesthood negates the “validity” of other Christian denominations. They claim authority based on passages from the Bible they have come to grips with, and many go about doing good with the knowledge and understanding they have. I say more power to them for the good that they do, and God bless them for it. Best to all.

  39. I believe that Mormons have the right to define their own faith just as anyone else has the right to define their own faiths. If Mormons are charitable, non smokers/drinkers, pay tithes (10%), send DI trucks with supplies to disaster struck places, emphasize family morals and unity, believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord & Savior then they must truly be a cult (non Christians)! But if they are a cult and teach good then what are the other churches teaching that makes them not a cult?

  40. As an ex-mormon, I don’t really have a dog in this fight,

    but it seems absurd NOT to consider Mormons Christians, as they believe Christ was the son of God and instrumental in human salvation.

    Boston Episcopalians don’t *really* consider Southern Evangelicals “Christians.”

    Much of this is regional and indoctrinated prejudice.

    Mssr Reid, in bringing up the issue of “indoctrination,” leads us to observe that 95% of humans ascribe to the religion of their parents and extended families. One would think that if people were choosing on the basis of “truth”, there would not be such a high correlation.

  41. I was raised by LDS convert parents in Indiana. I grew up reading the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and other revelations of God and Jesus.
    I can’t explain how that I know that they are true, but I know the Holy Ghost has witnessed those truthes to me time and again. I am 37 now.
    I figure we can underestimate or misinterpret the Holy scriptures and prophets of God at our own peril.
    But then again, maybe I am wrong.

    But I am not betting on it. I know the scriptures bring too much clarity, wisdom and peace to really dismiss them “intellectually” with my imperfect worldy knowledge.

    I act by faith by believing the way I do.

    And I do believe that Jesus will interview me some day, and I hope He has a place for me in the Kingdom of Our Father.

    Happy Thanksgiving All. Peace be unto you.

  42. I have read “Mormon’s in America” and I own the book. The only thing about the Ostling’s book that I objected to was “their” chapter. This chapter was their personal view of Mormons and their opinion of the basic tenet’s of the Church. I don’t feel that this chapter had any place in the book!! To be taken as objective and serious journalists went out the window when I read that. Yes, I am active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

  43. Most of your issues are definitional concerns. If you are clear by what you mean by “Christian”, the conroversy mostly disappears. When journalists fail to be clear about the definitional problem or fail to be clear about what definition they are using in their writing, what is the reason? Laziness? Love of controversy over love of accurate reporting? Why do journalists not write about reasons for which the various sides adopt various definitions.

    When you say it is not necessary to go to the official Mormon source you fail to be clear about which issues you are speaking about. Are you saying Ostlings or an excommunicated former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are as good a source of belief and doctrine as the official source? For history and interpretation of acts of church officials,for example, you are no doubt correct that journalists should look at the arguments of as many sides to the controversey as they can. But do you mean you listen to Ostlings only and not the official source as well?

    How do you justify reporting and tacitly accepting the story of ex-communicated scholars regarding their excommunication without disclosing the fact that the official LDS side of the story has not been, and cannot be given. Investigate. You will find that no official of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has ever disclosed anything about the Church’s version of what the charges were or what happened at the ex-communication hearing. The reasons for this secrecy are unlikley to be totally self-serving. As a journalist, what is your opinion of the liklihood you have come close to the truth, when you have only one side of the controversey?

  44. Remember ..this is American, the land of the free…all men are created equal…freedom of Religion…founding fathers that were not hostile to religion even though their brands of christianity varied…sad to think that we in 2007 have forgotten all that Revolution sacrifice and its back to the fear mongering, witch trials, and prejudice. We all have to be that so called generic protestant white male brand of Christian. You people are pathetic in terms of historical perspective. Do baptists and other protestants not have skeletons in their Southern KKK backgrounds? Judge the man (Mitt) on his values, his accomplishments, his leadership, his record, & his politics not on his American right to be different than you. It is so sad. He looks to his prophet for his daily spiritual guidance just as the Protestant looks to his minister. They both look to God and Christ in their prayers. This is such a low point in American Politics. I do not fault the man for his religion. His religion walks the talk. They do stuff that makes America great. I won’t vote for him because of his politics but I admire the man for his integrity, values, and work ethic.

  45. This is a good discussion - one of the best I’ve seen. Anti-Mormonism is gradually losing its appeal as one of the few remaining respectable bigotries.

  46. When human beings speak of religion or politics, I believe that “objective” is in the eye of the beholder.

    If I produce Chevrolets and you produce Toyotas and your friend produces Fords, would you make your buying decision by referring ONLY to what a competitor says?

    The Apostle Paul said, “Prove all things, hold fast to that which is good.”

    Mormons bristle when we run across tracts or books that purport to say what our DOCTRINE is, when the statement is not what we believe but some warped interpretation out of left field. In such a case, we’d say please go to to see what we claim our doctrine to be.

    Does that mean that a Jew, a Catholic, or a Protestant cannot compare their beliefs to Mormon beliefs, and show similarities or differences? Of course not.

    Free discussion is the best way to reveal truth, so long as those who discuss do not try to put words in the other person’s mouth.

    It’s not intellectually honest to tell me that I am not Christian, when I believe in Him as my Savior as much as you do.

    However, it is a fair debate to note that Catholics and Mormons and Unitarians and Baptists and Lutherans may each have a different “flavor” of definition as to what their own take on Christianity is.

    As brothers and sisters of one Heavenly Father, we all proceed according to the best light we have. We also learn by sharing the best that we have, since no one has all the answers.

    As a Mormon, I will always defend a Baptist or any other person to find Christ the best way he knows how, just as I’d like the same privilege and respect. As the Apostle Paul also said, “we see through a glass darkly.”

    That applies to everyone, no matter what their belief.

    With all of the evil in the world, we Christians should rejoice in other Christians of similar — if not exact — beliefs, and should combine forces to defend against attacks on our families, public morality and virtue, and the freedoms that God has so richly blessed us with.

    Why not spend the energy attacking evil?

    If a Christian writer really doesn’t not like or agree with Mormon theology, fine. If he doesn’t like Baptist theology, fine.

    I thought the whole Protestant movement was to free up individuals to read the scriptures and pray to God for themselves, not expect some authority figure to tell them what to believe.
    Have the Ostlings appointed themselves to be such an authority figure?

    Stereotypes do not advance understanding or brotherhood. does not list every flaw or failing in its members or in the Church, but if you expect it to do so to meet your definition of “objective,” show me the Catholic, Protestant or Jewish website that lists all their respective failings and failures.

    There are no such websites, because your criteria for “objectivity” is disingenuous.

    Each religion has limited resources. How can you blame the Mormons — or anyone else you find fault with, for not listing all their failings on their website or in their publications — while they try to focus their scarce resources on spreading the Savior’s good news to a fallen world?

    As a Mormon, I am thankful to God for every person of faith who makes this a better world, and wish there were more. I wish each religion success in proclaiming their message and reaching more people.

    People of faith are outnumbered, and the secular world is heading such a direction as to fulfill Luke 18:8, that when the Lord returns, “shall he find faith on the earth?”

    Isn’t there a place for tolerance of differing views among Christians?

    Who appointed the Ostlings — or you, or me — to be the sole determiners of who is Christian or who is not?

    It’s a mark of humility and tolerance to see the good in others and focus on the good, even if they are different in important respects.

    On the other hand, it’s divisive and a mark of arrogance and intolerance to focus on the failings in one’s neighbors, real or imagined.

    My limited understand of the Fall of Adam is that it was like the Titanic hitting the iceberg, because ALL fall short of the glory of God. There are only a few lifeboats, and a lot of people freezing in the water.

    Why not join together and preach together to those who deny the Lord and who promote doubt in the world?

    If you want to learn what a Baptist believes, go to a Baptist or to a baptist website, don’t go to a Mormon or a Catholic or a Lutheran. Have enough respect for the other fellow enough to allow him to speak for himself, about what he believes, thinks and feels.

    Then, once you have heard from him what he believes and thinks and feels, compare it all you want with the best sources you can — always watching for those who have a hidden agenda, or some bias that leads them to cast stones at a brother who is struggling along.

    People are drowning in the cold water. Let’s help them get in the closest boat, and cease the petty arguing amongst ourselves.

    There’s work to do.

    Petty squabbling with someone of a different theology is divisive. Proclaim your message, and let your message stand on its own.

    Allow him to proclaim his message, and let it stand on its own.

    We have more that unites us, than divides us — but we have to focus on what unites us.

  47. Re: whether Mormons can properly be called “Christians,” I suppose that depends on what definition you’re using.

    If you’re an evangelical Protestant, you probably define “Christian” as “true Christian,” i.e. someone who agrees with them. Mormons don’t fit this definition — thank God. (There is much that I admire in evangelical religion — along with much that I do not.)

    On the other hand, if you’re an objective observer — a secularist, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew — I simply can’t see how you can’t classify Mormonism as part of the general Christian tradition it clearly arises from. As “Charlie Brown” pointed out, Jesus Christ is far more central to Mormon faith than He is to Judaism or Islam.

    Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, and the only savior of the world. No non-Christian religion believes this. Isn’t it fair to declare this to be the crucial determinant of whether a religion is “Christian” or not?

    If Mormonism is not all it claims to be, it is — at worst — a Christian heresy. But it is still Christian, unless — to avoid having to associate with those weirdo Mormons — Christians choose to define the heart of their religion as something other than Jesus Christ.

    That is, if a belief in Christ as God and Savior doesn’t qualify the believer as Christian, then the essence of Christian faith is something else — be it the Bible, a particular soteriology, or a particular interpretation of the metaphysics of the Trinity.

    The problem is that if you start defining the essence of Christianity as involving these secondary doctrinal points (i.e. those going beyond “Jesus Christ and Him crucified”), you start having to question whether Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants belong to the same general “Christian” religions tradition. All of these Christian subgroups have differing doctrines on the secondary points; that’s what divides them. Perhaps the differences between Mormonism and any of those groups are even more pronounced than the differences between them — but that’s a matter of degree, not of substance.

    I have yet to hear a convincing explanation of why Mormons should not be considered “Christian.” Heretical, maybe, but Christian, definitely.

  48. Mr Henry James,
    I don’t think you will be able to convince me that you really think it is OK for anyone to believe that Joseph Smith saw God and Christ. If it was OK, you would not have made so many comments trying to convince me that it was. And coming out and telling me you are an ex-member doesn’t do your arguments any favors either. I have yet to meet an ex-Mormon who just lets the church be. They are always trying to convince others to leave the church as well instead of focusing on their new beliefs or religion of choice. If you were genuine in your claims of letting others believe what they will, I would have only needed to see ONE entry from you, not 7 trying to prove how everyone else is wrong but yourself. If you have bad feelings toward those in your old wards or stakes, fine, so be it. If you don’t believe in Joseph Smith, fine. But how about you you leave it at that? I am sure you are familiar with Korihor in the Book of Mormon…your comments make me think of him.

  49. Andrea,
    I read your Bio on this website this morning, and was quite impressed with your extensive background. I hope if you have read all of these comments, that you have not “written off” Mormonism as a religion that has devout followers who don’t have common ground intellectually with one such as yourself who has studied Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

    I hope you may feel a desire as a writer and reporter to delve more deeply into Mormon beliefs and practices, noting such themes as spiritually guided journeys and sacred fasts as part of the religious heritage that may resonate with you. There are many good reasons to do so, not the least of which is to be better informed about a religion that has been involved in providing humanitarian aid in several recent calamities in our world, working quite closely with your particular faith to help alleviate much suffering.

  50. Wow! This is wonderful post on Mormonism and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
    By going through your post I have got very good information on this religious part and I think both of them are accurate with god neither Believers nor reporters are bad. Thanks for sharing a very good data on Mormonism.

  51. [...] Finally, several Mormon readers of this website have asserted that you and your wife can’t write objectively about the church because you are [...]

  52. Mormons are meticulous Historians, Non-Mormon Historians have a tendency to regard evocations of the dark side of the Collective Unconscious via Mormanism, Polygamy, Masonry, and may start seeing the litle bit of information they have as their facts not the events of the past, but dark imaginings drawn from the last Century anti-Mormon Genre.
    The best place to get historical, cultural, and Other information about Mormon History and about splinter groups like Jeffs is the two non-official Mormon magazines, Sunstone and Dialogue.

    Sunstoneis easier to read than Dialogue. There has always been a Feminist Magazine-My suscription has lapsed and it’s not easy to find it, though the Editor for many years and received a Pulitzer for her book on the life and practice of a New England midwife.

    Romney may have made an oblique reference to her when he said that, deprived by September Dawn of his candidacy, he’d just grow a beard and get a Pulitzer.


    PS. I have an recurrent Encephalitus-
    forgive the spelling.

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